As summer approaches, plenty of people are trying to slim down. While "quick fix" fad diets might seem enticing, experts say more sustainable changes—like upping your fruit and vegetable intake—are key to weight loss success that lasts. "For successful long-term weight loss, people should focus on high-quality foods that offer both macro and micronutrients," explains Colleen Chiariello, RD, the chief clinical dietitian at Syosset Hospital. "Nutrients such as protein, fiber, healthy fats (omega-3 fatty acids), antioxidants, phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals should be the staples of one's meal plan." Foods that contain several of these components are considered "superfoods."
Superfoods have been shown to help support nerve and muscle function, immune health, blood sugar control, heart health, bone strength, and protection from free radical damage, all while also curbing appetite, Chiarello says, making them ideal for people trying to shed pounds. Ahead, find weight loss experts' top superfood picks for anyone on a diet.
"Hemp seeds are frequently referred to as hemp hearts, which is apropos because I 'heart' these little guys when it comes to healthy living and weight loss," says Brigitte Zeitlin, RD, a registered dietitian and owner of BZ Nutrition. Hemp hearts are high in protein, which helps keep you satiated to prevent unnecessary snacking and curbs food cravings, she adds. "I love to use hemp hearts in my morning oatmeal, sprinkled into my plain Icelandic yogurt, or on top of my avocado toast. For dinner, I'll toss some on top of my veggie stir-fry," Zeitlin says.
You've seen it at your favorite coffee shop, your yoga studio, and even in the grocery store, but this naturally sweet beverage is more than just a tasty treat. "Coconut water, particularly the green-dwarf variety, contains biologically active compounds that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capabilities," notes Caroline Cederquist, MD, a bariatric physician and co-founder of bistroMD. Plus, there's some evidence that coconut water may help regulate blood sugar levels in those with type 2 diabetes.
And don't feel like you have to buy the fancy bottled stuff to get the benefits: "Try buying a whole green coconut, which usually has holes in the top that you can pop a straw through and drink the water straight from inside," Dr. Cederquist suggests.
"Matcha is like green tea on steroids, giving you almost 10 times the amount of antioxidant benefits of regular green tea," Zeitlin explains. It's high in an antioxidant known as EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate), which studies have linked to a more efficient metabolism. "Boosting your internal calorie-burner helps to burn off those excess pounds even when you're not at the gym," she says. Try it in a hot latte with unsweetened almond milk or in your daily smoothie. Here's where you can learn more about the benefits of matcha.
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You probably know you should be eating more greens—and that's especially true if weight loss is your goal. "From spinach and romaine lettuce to Swiss chard and kale, if you are trying to lose weight (or eat healthier) leafy greens should be included in your meals," says Suzanne Klaus, RD, a dietitian at Forward Fitness. "They are packed with vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. This is great because if you are deficient in certain nutrients, it is harder to lose weight."
What's more, leafy greens are high in fiber content, helping you feel full faster and longer. "When thinking about how to get your leafy greens in, salads are a no-brainer," Klaus says. "I also love adding spinach and Swiss chard to my eggs in the morning. If you aren't a fan of the way they taste just yet, try adding spinach to a smoothie. You won't be able to taste it!"
"Kohlrabi is a relative of wild cabbage, and has been consumed in India for thousands of years," Dr. Cederquist explains. "Just like broccoli, this is a cruciferous vegetable, with anti-diabetic and anti-inflammatory properties. You can find both red and green kohlrabi, and both of these varieties also have an anti-cancer effect as well. Sauté these just like you would cabbage or broccoli, just some water, salt, and steam will do the trick!"
As long as you're controlling your portions, avocado is an amazing food to eat when trying to lose weight. "A little healthy fat with every meal is important for weight loss," Klaus says. "It can help prevent you from becoming ravenous between meals and eating everything in sight. It also helps keep your blood sugar from spiking and crashing, another quality that is great for weight loss." Plus, by pairing avocado with other foods, like in a salad, your body better absorbs the fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) that are provided by the greens and other veggies, according to Klaus.
"Mushrooms are getting more popular lately as an ingredient in teas, coffees, and soups," notes Stephanie Schiff, RDN, a registered dietitian at Huntington Hospital. "They are low in fat and calories and have a satisfying, almost meaty flavor called umami. Adding them to your diet can help you lose weight since they can help you feel full without adding a lot of calories. Swap half the beef in burgers with finely chopped mushrooms, and you've made your burgers healthier and easier on the waistline."
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This one might not be for the faint of heart, but it has some legit health benefits that make it worth considering. Crickets are 69 percent protein, high in vitamin B12, and a good source of both omega-6 essential fatty acids and omega-3's, says Alana Kessler, RD, a dietitian and yoga instructor. Plus, they contain all nine essential amino acids, she says. It gets better: "They have twice as much potassium as spinach, as much calcium as milk, and they are a source of heme iron—the more easily absorbed form of iron commonly found in red meat." Crickets have so much going for them that companies are now turning them into a tasteless powder form that you can add to smoothies.
They make every superfood list for good reason: "Known for their antioxidant power and fiber content, blueberries are a win for health. They can also be a win for weight loss," says Amy Goodson, RD, a dietitian and board-certified specialist in sports dietetics. "They're low in calories and naturally sweet. If you're craving a treat when trying to lose weight, try using blueberries to sweeten your oatmeal or yogurt—or even puree them as for a sauce to add to your favorite breakfast dish. Remember, fiber helps you feel full faster, which is essential for successful weight loss." Curious how to make blueberries even better? Read how to improve on these eight superfoods.
Turns out, those funky-colored carrots you've spotted in the produce aisle are weight loss winners loaded with healthy antioxidants: "Black carrots are rich in anthocyanins, which are the plant compounds that give them their gorgeous color as well as their health benefits," Dr. Cederquist says. "Try juicing them for a beautiful, purple-colored beverage rich in healthy phytochemicals."
"Bone broth has so many wonderful benefits for someone who is trying to improve their health and lose weight," Klaus says. "Ever wonder why people recommend soup when you're sick? It has a lot of anti-inflammatory and healing properties. If your body has a lot of inflammation, which can be common for those who consume a diet higher in sugar and processed food, fat loss will be more of a challenge," she explains. Bone broth is also beneficial for gut health, which is key for fat loss. "If your gut isn't functioning optimally, you may not be absorbing all the nutrients from your food, and weight loss will be harder."
As for how and when to get it, Klaus likes to have a cup of bone broth in place of her morning coffee. "If you are buying it at the store, look at the ingredients," she suggests. "If there is sugar in it, choose a different brand. If you want to make it at home, you can buy bones from a local butcher and some grocery stores."
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The classic fruit can also keep extra pounds at bay. "Apples contain non-digestible compounds that promote the growth of good bacteria in your gut associated with weight loss," explains Tanya Rosen, nutritionist for Teasane and owner of Nutrition by Tanya. They also contain pectin, an ingredient that slows digestion and helps you feel full, she says. "It's a chain reaction: The slower you digest, the fuller you feel, and the less you crave."
Grabbing one for a snack is always a good move, but Rosen also recommends considering this fruit for dessert. "A baked apple is one of the easiest healthy desserts to make. Just bake your cored apple in the oven with a few shredded almonds, your choice of sweetener, and cinnamon in the middle, and wait until it is soft. I like to top mine with some granola or rolled oats for that extra crunch. Just be sure not to skip eating the peel, which contains much of the fruit's nutritional benefit."
Another gut-friendly pick, kefir is your microbiome's friend, Kessler says. It's chock-full of "good bacteria" and protein, making it a double-win. Add eight ounces of the stuff a day to your diet to reap the nutritional benefits. "Be wary of fruit-flavored kefir, as it contains added sugar," she warns. And if you're not keen on dairy: "The fermented nature of kefir supports individuals with lactose intolerance, but coconut kefir is an option as well if you are dairy-free."
"I know it may sound counterintuitive to add in chocolate to lose weight, but trust me," Zeitlin says. "One ounce of dark chocolate a day can boost your weight-loss game by satisfying your sweet tooth and keeping sugar cravings at bay." That's because it tastes rich and is full of healthy fats, making it less tempting to overeat than the more processed version of chocolate, she explains.
Plus, you need to make room in your plan for treats. "If you overly restrict the sweeter stuff to lose weight, you are setting yourself up for a binge later on, undoing all your hard work," Zeitlin says. "By adding in some dark chocolate daily, you'll feel more empowered to make healthy choices without feeling deprived. Stick to one-ounce of dark chocolate as a treat after dinner, and make sure that it is 72 percent cacao or higher."
"Loaded with protein and omega-3 fatty acids, salmon is one of the most satisfying proteins out there," Goodson explains. "It will help you feel like you actually ate something on your diet plan versus feeling like you need more food. Plus, if you have started an exercise plan while losing weight, the inflammation-fighting omega-3 fats in salmon can help you recover faster." Not a huge fan of fish? "Try it blackened in corn tortillas with veggies and avocado to help acquire the taste for this nutritious fish," she suggests. If you need more superfood inspiration, here are 12 delicious eats you didn't know were superfoods.